Couple recalls time in Afghanistan


NORWAY — Using photographs and souvenirs to illustrate their tale, a married couple from Otisfield told an audience about several trips they had taken to Afghanistan.

Henry and Shirley Hamilton spoke about their experiences on Friday at the Norway Universalist Church. Henry spent time in the country as both an intelligence analyst for the National Security Agency and a relief worker, and Shirley worked with the International Relief Committee.

Henry said he grew up in Otisfield and returned to the town after spending a considerable amount of time abroad.

“It took me 45 years and 50 countries to move 1 mile,” he said.

Henry first went to the country in the 1960s, and saw a job posting for work there after the start of the war against the Taliban in 2001. Confident he would get it, he asked his wife if she was interested in going to Afghanistan.

His work involved helping farmers return from refugee camps in Pakistan to re-establish their agricultural settlements. The work included digging wells, removing mines from fields, and bringing in supplies to help the farmers begin their work.

“The people just told me after nine months, ‘Thank you, now we can take care of ourselves,’” he recalled.

Photographs presented by the Hamiltons spanned a 45-year period. Some depicted the daunting Khyber Pass, which they traversed in vehicles crammed with goods and people seeking a ride. In one picture, a man rides on the hood of a truck and uses water to keep it from overheating.

Many of the photos focused on the people in the region. In one, a young beggar carries a container of burning charcoal to let people warm their hands for the right price. Other pictures compared buildings between Henry’s trips in the 1960s and in 2002. A king’s mausoleum, stately in appearance, had degraded into a ruin in the intervening decades.

“Little did I know it wasn’t a marble building,” he said. “It was a mud building covered with marble siding.”

Shirley showed several items the couple had picked up in Afghanistan, including decorative fans, a large rice dish, and a hand broom. She said that during her work in the country, the day’s tasks had to be completed by 6 p.m., when the electricity would be shut off. She was subject to the traditional restrictions on women, including the need to wear clothing to hide her face and hair.

Shirley said the airport was a popular spot for people in the country to go.

“Everybody went there to see all the foreigners, to see what they’re not supposed to see,” she said.

Henry said that girls in the country were doing well in education. However, he also recalled how a new school educated only boys while girls were taught in a nearby peach orchard. He said the girls in these classes were sometimes accompanied by their mothers.

“We had women and daughters sitting together in the first grade, because women had not been allowed to go to school for a generation,” he said.

[email protected]